Minoan civilization


With an economy based primarily on foreign trade, the Minoan Civilization shaped every aspect of it to meet the demands of the foreign market. Because Crete was poor in deposits of mainly metals, the Minoans produced surplus agricultural and manufactured goods that they sold to obtain metals from Cyprus, Egypt, and the Cyclades. To facilitate such trade the Minoans developed a complete system of weights and measures that used copper ingots and gold and silver discs with predetermined weights. Minoan art was extremely fertile and encompassed elements acquired through contacts with foreign peoples as well as indigenous elements. There were productions using clay (pottery), semi-precious stones (lithic art) and metals. In all cases, the artifacts produced show a gradual evolution as the civilization became more specialized. The artistic motifs incorporated in these productions, as in the frescoes, in short, value scenes depicting nature and/or its elements (animals, plants), religious processions and/or rituals, mythological beings, etc. The Minoan religion was matriarchal. Unlike the Mycenaeans, the Minoans had shrines in natural places (springs, caves, elevations) or in palaces where there were several spaces dedicated to cult practices. The Minoans initially developed a hieroglyphic writing system, possibly originating from Egyptian hieroglyphs, which evolved into Linear A writing, which in turn evolved into Linear B, which was incorporated by the Mycenaeans to write their archaic form of Greek.

The term “Minoan” was coined by Arthur Evans and is derived from the name of the mythical king “Minos”. This was associated with the Greek myth of the labyrinth, which Evans identified as the site of Cnossos. It is sometimes argued that the Egyptian plate called “Keftiu” (“On the other hand some known facts about CaftorKeftiu can hardly be associated with Crete,” notes John Strange. In the Odyssey, composed centuries after the destruction of the Minoan Civilization, Homer calls the natives of Crete the Eteocretans (“true Cretans”).

The so-called Minoan palaces (anaktora) are the best-finished constructions known to have been excavated on the island. They are monumental constructions serving administrative purposes, which is evidenced by large archives of documents unearthed by archaeologists. Each of the palaces excavated so far has unique characteristics, but they also share features that distinguish them from other structures.

Apparently the Minoan people were not Indo-European and were not even related to the pre-Greek inhabitants of mainland Greece and Western Anatolia, the so-called pelasgos. However, an analysis of the genome sequences of the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans, who lived 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from early Neolithic farmers. They probably migrated from Anatolia to Greece and Crete thousands of years before the Bronze Age. The Minoan Civilization was much more advanced and sophisticated than the contemporary Helladic civilization during the Bronze Age. Minoan writing (Linear A) has not yet been deciphered, but there are indications that it represents an Aegean language, unrelated to any Indo-European language. From the Neolithic period onward, Crete came to be between the two cultural flows leading westward: front-Asian and North African. Apparently, Minoan Crete remained free from any invasion for many centuries and managed to develop a distinct self-sustaining civilization that was probably the most advanced in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age.

Instead of associating dates from the absolute calendar (although this is also sometimes used) for the Minoan period, archaeologists use two systems of relative chronology. The first, created by Evans and later modified by other archaeologists, is based on styles in cultural production, the pottery styles. It divides the Minoan period into three main eras – Early Minoan (MA), Middle Minoan (MM) and Recent Minoan (MR). These eras are subdivided, for example, into Early Minoan I, II and III (MAI, MAII and MAIII). Another dating system, also cultural, proposed by the Greek archaeologist Nicolaos Platon, is based on the development of the architectural complexes known as the palaces of Cnossos, Phaistos, Malia and Cato Zacro, and divides the Minoan period into Pre-Palatial, Protopalatial, Neopalatial and Post-Palatial. The relationship between these systems is given in the table below with approximate calendar dates taken from Warren and Hankey (1989).

The eruption of the Santorini volcano occurred during an advanced phase of the Late Minoan IA period. The date of the volcanic eruption is extremely controversial. Radiocarbon dating indicates the late 17th century BCE; however this estimate conflicts with those of archaeologists who synchronize the eruption with conventional Egyptian chronology and obtain a date of about 1 530 – 1 500 BCE. The eruption is often identified as a catastrophic natural event for the culture, possibly leading to the end of the civilization.


Through an ancient prophecy that Kronos would be dethroned by one of his sons, he begins to devour them one by one after they are conceived by his wife and sister, Reia. The last of them, Zeus, was spared this tragic end, for he was sent to Crete to be raised by the goat Amalthea. Years later, the goat reveals to Zeus the end of his brothers, and Zeus is overcome by intense rage. He allies himself with his aunt, the titanid Métis, who gives him a potion that his father should take to vomit out his relatives; when he takes it, Cronos regurgitates his grown sons who, together with Zeus, start the cosmic war against their father, the Titanomachy. On one side were the gods led by Zeus, and on the other side the titans led by Cronos and Atlas (who participated in the war, as the gods destroyed Atlantis, his kingdom). At the end of the conflict the titans were completely defeated and a new cosmic order was established: Zeus reigned over the heavens and the earth, Posidon over the seas, and Hades over Tartarus.

Kings of Crete

The first king of Crete was Cres, a descendant of the island”s inhabitants, the curettes (people who assisted the goat in caring for the infant Zeus), who reigned in 1 964 B.C. or 1 887 B.C. One of Doro”s sons, Tectamus, invades the island with an army of Aeolians and Bygos and dominates it completely. He married Creteus” daughter and from this union his son and successor Asterius was born. During Asterius” reign, Zeus kidnaps the Phoenician princess Europa, daughter of Agenor, and with her he begets Radamanthus, Sarpedon and Minos. Asterius marries Europa and adopts her children.

Licasto, according to certain sources (among them Diodorus Sicicus), was a king of Crete, so that there were in Crete two kings named Minos; the first was the son of Zeus and Europa; the second was the lord of the Seas. According to Diodorus, the first Minos succeeded Asterius in power. The latter married Ithone, daughter of Lycithus, and from this union Licasto was born. Lycitus married Idê, daughter of Coribas, and from this union the second Minos was born.

Upon the death of Asterius, the sons of Europa began an intense rivalry, as all three fell in love with the same man, Miletus, son of Apollo and Aria. As a result, Minos drives his brothers off the island and becomes the sole king. Minos produced the Cretan laws, and married Pasiphae, daughter of Helios and Perseis; according to Asclepias, Minos married Crete, daughter of Asterius. From this union he begot Catreu, Deucalion, Glaucus, Androgeus, Acale, Xenodice, Ariadne, and Phaedra: Minos also had children out of wedlock.

During his reign, his power was constantly challenged, which led him to ask for a bull to emerge from the sea to be sacrificed in his honor, during a sacrifice to Poseidon; the latter granted the request, but Minos, instead of sacrificing the bull, puts it with his herd and sacrifices another one in its place. In retaliation, Poseidon makes Pasiphae fall in love with the bull that is now wild. Daedalus, a famous Athenian architect and inventor, built a mechanical cow so that Pasifale could copulate with the animal, and from this union Asterius, better known as the Minotaur (creature half man, half bull), was born.

One of the sons of Minos, Androgeus, goes to Athens to participate in the Panathenaic games. Because he won all the contests, he makes King Aegeus jealous, and he has him assassinated. In retaliation, Minos invades Attica, but fails to take Athens. He prays to Zeus to cause pestilence and famine in the city; as a result, Aegeus considers himself defeated and is forced to pay an annual tribute of seven boys and seven girls to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Theseus, Aegeus” son, voluntarily decided to be one of the chosen ones to go to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur, promising his father that he would kill him. Arriving in Crete, during the exhibition of the chosen ones to Minos, Ariadne spots Theseus and falls in love with him. With the promise that he would take Ariadne to Athens, Theseus receives from her an enchanted ball of wool (Ariadne”s thread) and a sword, which Theseus used to kill the beast. According to another version, it was with his father”s golden sword that Theseus achieved victory. After the grandiose deed, Theseus flees to his ship accompanied by Ariadne and the Athenians; however, he does not set sail from the island before cracking the hull of the Cretan ships.

When Minos finds out that Daedalus had made the cow for Pasiphae, the latter was forced to flee Crete with the help of the queen, along with his son Icarus who suffered a naval accident on the island that was renamed Ikaria. According to Diodorus, they both escaped from Crete by flying, thanks to two pairs of wings that Daedalus developed; Icarus, dazzled by the firmament, soars too high and the sun melts the wax of his wings, plunging him into the waters of the Aegean Sea, while Daedalus manages to reach Sicily. Daedalus lives in the court of King Cochalus, building various wonders for him. When Minos learns of his whereabouts, he forms a large army to conduct a campaign against the island. The place where his forces landed was named Heracleia Minoa. Minos demanded that Cocalus deliver Daedalus to him for punishment, however, the king brings Minos as a guest to his palace, and murders him while bathing, boiling him in hot water. His body is returned to the Cretans, on the grounds that he had drowned in the bath; the Cretans buried him in Sicily, in the place where the city of Acragas was later founded, and there his remains remained until Terone, tyrant of Acragas, returned his bones to the Cretans. Minos, along with his brother Radamanthus and Aeacus, becomes one of the three judges of the lower world, and he is responsible for the final verdict.

Minos” successor was Catreu. After knowing through an oracle that he would be killed by one of his sons, he delivered his daughters Aeope and Clemene to Nauplius to be sold as slaves; his third daughter, Apemósine, was killed by her brother Altémenes with kicks. In his old age, Catreus, wanting to bequeath his kingdom to his son Altemenes, traveled to Rhodes (his son”s residence), where, mistaken for a pirate, he was killed by his son, who then killed himself.

Catreu”s brother Deucalion became his successor, and he led the Cretan forces, along with his son Idomeneus (he was inside the Trojan Horse) in the Trojan War. Deucalion had another legitimate son besides Idomeneus (Crete) and an illegitimate one (Molo). To strengthen relations between Crete and Athens, Deucalion promoted the marriage of his sister Phaedra to Theseus. Theseus” son Hippolytus, after rejecting the goddess Aphrodite”s overtures, sentenced his family to a terrible curse. The goddess made his stepmother fall in love with him, who also repudiated her. To get back at him, she lies to Theseus, claiming that Hippolytus tried to rape her. Enraged, Theseus expels his son from Athens and asks Posidon to punish him. In response, the god made a sea monster appear in front of Hippolytus” chariot, which frightened the horses, destroying the chariot and killing the young man. Later he is resurrected by Artemis with the help of Asclepius; Phaedra, out of remorse, commits suicide by hanging herself.

On its way back from the Trojan War, the fleet commanded by Idomeneus was surprised by a violent storm. Idomeneus promised that he would sacrifice to Posidon the first human he met on land, in exchange for saving his life. Chance would have it be his son. Idomeneus does not keep his promise and as punishment Crete suffers from the plague. According to Pseudo-Apolodorus, because of what he caused, the Cretans exiled him to Calabria, Italy. In another version he was expelled from Crete by Leuco, who conspired with his wife, Meda, to become king. However, Leuco kills Meta and his daughter Clisythira, thus becoming tyrant of ten Cretan cities.

The earliest evidence of permanent (i.e., sedentary) inhabitants on Crete are pre-Cretan Neolithic artifacts of remains of farming communities dating from about 7,000 BCE. A comparative study of DNA haplogroups of modern male Cretans showed that a founding male group from Anatolia or the Levant, is shared with the Greeks.

The first inhabitants of the island lived in caves, and over time they began to erect small villages as well as stone buildings. On the coast there were fishermen”s huts, while the fertile Messara plain was used for agriculture. They grew wheat and lentils, raised cattle and goats, and produced weapons with bones, horns, obsidian, hematite, sandstone, limestone, and serpentine, and the presence of obsidian proves the existence of commercial contact between Crete and the Cyclades, because in the Aegean world the source of obsidian is the island of Milos.

Ancient Minoan

The introduction of copper, and its use for tools and weapons, marks the end of the Neolithic on Crete, with the Bronze Age on the island beginning in 2,700 BCE. From the Lower Bronze Age (3 500 – 2 500 BCE), the Minoan Civilization on Crete showed promise of greatness. Arthur Evans” thesis that the introduction of metals into Crete was occasioned by immigrants from Egypt no longer holds up, inasmuch as other theories argue for the establishment of colonies in North Africa and Asia Minor. However, the archaeological data do not support such colonization, and the anthropological data do not evidence the arrival of new populations at that time. The current theory is that the entire Aegean Sea was being inhabited by a so-called pre-Hellenic or Aegean people.

Egypt apparently did not then exert much influence in the region, with Anatolia playing a relevant role in the early metal art on Crete. The spread of bronze use in the Aegean Sea is linked to large population movements from the coast of Asia Minor to Crete, the Cyclades, and southern mainland Greece. These regions were entering a phase of social and cultural development, marked mainly by expanding trade relations with Asia Minor and Cyprus. However, Neolithic civilization continued, especially in the first part of the period. Thus we can see the changes mainly in terms of organization, improved living conditions, and in terms of technology.

From that time on, Crete experienced a transition from an agricultural economy to other economic models as a result of maritime trade with other Aegean and Western Mediterranean regions. With its navy, Crete occupies a prominent place in the Aegean. The use of metals increased transactions with the producing countries: the Cretans sought copper from Cyprus, gold from Egypt, silver and obsidian from the Cyclades. The ports were growing into large centers under the influence of the increased commercial activities with Asia Minor, and the eastern part of the island is predominant in this period. Centers in the eastern part (Vasilicí and Malia) begin to become notable and their influence radiates along the island giving rise to new centers, among them Amnisos, Cnossos and Festus; these centers are connected by a road erected along the island. It seems that from the ancient Minoan onwards, villages and small towns become numerous and isolated farms are rare However, it is important to remember that some caves still continued to be occupied in this period.

At the end of the 3rd millennium BC, several localities on the island developed into centers of trade and manual labor, due to the introduction of the potter”s wheel in pottery and bronze metallurgy. In addition, an increase in population is evident, as well as a high population density, especially in the mid-west. Tin from the Iberian Peninsula and Gaul, as well as trade with Sicily and the Adriatic Sea, began to curb eastern trade. In the field of agriculture, it is known from excavations that almost all known cereal and legume species are cultivated and all agricultural products still known today such as wine and grapes, olive oil and olives, already occurred at this time. The use of animal traction in agriculture is introduced.

The most characteristic dwellings of the period are found in Vasilicí, Pírgos and Ierápetra, however sumptuous buildings have also been identified in other parts of the island, for example the necropolises of Archanes, Crissolacos, Malia, Russolacos and Cato Zacro. There are tolos in several regions of Crete, especially in the Messara plain where 75 such tombs have been identified.

Middle Minoan

Ca. 2 000 BC the first Minoan palaces were built, these being the main change of the Middle Minoan. As a result of the founding of the palaces, the concentration of power in a few centers was seen, driving economic and social development. The first palaces are Cnossos, Festus and Malia, located in the most fertile plains of the island, allowing their owners to accumulate wealth, especially agricultural wealth, which is evidenced by the large warehouses for agricultural products found in them. This period of change allowed the upper classes to continuously practice leadership activities and extend their influence. It is likely that the original hierarchy of local elites was replaced by a monarchical power structure where palaces were controlled by kings – a precondition for the erection of large buildings. The social system was probably theocratic, with the king of each palace being the supreme official and religious head.

Written sources from the peoples of the East indicate that the Aegean Sea and Asia Minor underwent a turnaround, causing a Cretan reaction. With concentrated power, the Minoans could better fight off dangers from without. The appearance of the palaces contrasts with the apparent decline of the Cycladic and Helladic civilizations, and is surprising on an island that had not had the artistic development of the Cyclades, nor the economic organization of certain places in the Peloponnese, such as Lernaea. The location of the palaces corresponds to large cities that existed during the pre-Palachonian era. Knossos controlled the rich north-central region of Crete, Festus dominated the outlying area of Messara, and Malia the east-central. In recent years archaeologists speak of well-delineated territories or states, a new phenomenon in the Greek area.

The presence of specific jobs among the Minoans is indicative of broad specialization, successful division of labor, and abundant labor. A bureaucratic system and the need for better control of incoming and outgoing goods, in addition to a possible economy based on a slave system, formed the solid foundations for this civilization. Over time, the power of the eastern centers began to decline, being replaced by the rising power of the inland and western centers. This occurred mainly due to political disturbances in Asia (Chassite invasion in Babylon, Hittite expansion and Hyksa invasion in Egypt) that weakened the eastern market, motivating greater contact with mainland Greece and the Cyclades. During the MMI the vaulted tombs stop being erected in the Messara region.

At the end of the MMII period (1 750 – 1 700 BC), there was a major disturbance in Crete, probably an earthquake, or possibly an invasion from Anatolia. The earthquake theory is supported by the discovery of the temple of Anemospilia by the archaeologist Sakelarakis, in which were found the bodies of three people (one of them a victim of a human sacrifice) who were surprised by the collapse of the temple. Another theory is that there was a conflict within Crete, and Cnossos was victorious. The palaces of Cnossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Cato Zacro were destroyed. But with the beginning of the Neopalatial period the population grew again, palaces were rebuilt on a large scale (however, smaller than the previous ones) and new settlements were built all over the island, especially large farms.

This period (17th and 16th centuries BC, MMIIIneopalatial) represents the apogee of the Minoan Civilization. Administrative centers controlled extensive territories, the result of the improvement and development of land and sea communications, through the construction of roads and ports, and of merchant ships that sailed with artistic and agricultural productions, which were traded for raw materials. Between 1,700 – 1,450 B.C., the monarchy of Cnossos held the supremacy of the island. This monarchy, supported by the mercantile elite that emerged as a result of the intense trade, created a maritime commercial empire, the Thalassocracy. Herodotus and Thucydides claimed that the Cretans dominated with their navy the entire Aegean Sea, destroyed piracy, colonized most of the Cyclades, and collected taxes and equipment from the islanders. The extent of the Minoan Thalassocracy is attested to by the large number of cities named Minoa found on the Aegean islands, the Syrian coast, the Greek mainland, and Sicily. The regions integrated in the Minoan thalassocracy were administered by proxies. Thucydides mentions that the legendary King Minos sent his sons to govern the outer provinces.

The influence of the Minoan Civilization outside Crete is manifested in the presence of valuable handicraft items. Typical Minoan ceramics have been found in Milos, Lerna, Aegina and Kufonisia. It is likely that the ruling house of Mycenae was connected to the Minoan trade network. After about 1,700 BC, the material culture of mainland Greece reached a new level due to Minoan influence. Imports of ceramics from Egypt, Syria, Byblos and Ugarit demonstrate connections between Crete and these regions. Egyptian hieroglyphs served as a model for Minoan pictographic writing, from which the famous Linear A and B writing systems were later developed.

The eruption of the Tera volcano on the nearby island of Crete also known as Santorini was relentless for the course of Crete. The eruption has been dated as occurring between 1 639 – 1 616 BCE by radiocarbon dating; in 1 628 BCE by dendrochronology; and between 1 530 – 1 500 BCE by archaeology. The destruction of the Minoan settlement at Tera (known as Acrotiri) may have impacted, even if indirectly, Minoan trade with the north. c. 1 550 BCE, a new seismic tremor consecutive to the Tera catastrophes again destroyed the Minoan palaces; however, these were again rebuilt on an even larger scale than before.

Ca. 1 450 BCE, the Minoan Civilization experienced a turnaround, due to another natural catastrophe, possibly an earthquake. Another eruption of the Tera volcano has been associated with this fall, but the dating and implications remain controversial. The recent Minoan is marked by great material wealth and the omnipresence of the Cnossos pottery style. However, in the recent Minoan IIIB the importance of Cnossos as a regional center, and its material “wealth,” appear to have diminished. Several important palaces in places such as Malia, Thylissos, Festus, Agia Triada, as well as the lodges at Cnossos, were destroyed. The palace of Cnossos seems to have remained largely intact. During MRIIIB the island was invaded by the Achaeans of the Mycenaean Civilization.

The Minoan palace sites were occupied by the Mycenaeans around 1 420 BCE. (1 375 BCE according to other sources), who adapted the Minoan graphic system Linear A to the needs of their own Mycenaean language, a form of Greek, which was written in Linear B. The Mycenaeans generally tended to adapt, rather than destroy, Minoan culture, religion, and art, and continued to operate the economic and bureaucratic system of the Minoans. However, scholars such as Jean Tulard, argue that during this period the island became only an appendage of the mainland.

Mycenaean buildings (tombs, villages, etc.) are found in many Minoan localities. The Cretan west prospered thanks to its proximity to the Peloponnese. The port of Knossos continued to maintain trade relations with Cyprus. Possibly the Minoan and Mycenaean eventually merged, however no new artistic trends are evidenced on the island. During MRIIIA, Amenophis III in Kom el-Hatan mentions k-f-t-w (Caftor) as one of the “Secret Lands of Northern Asia.” Cretan cities such as Ἀμνισός (Amnisos), Φαιστός (Festus), Κυδωνία (Kidonia) and Kνωσσός (Knossos) and some reconstructed toponyms are also mentioned as belonging to the Cyclades and the Greek mainland. If the values of these Egyptian names are accurate, then this pharaoh did not privilege Cnossos of MRIII above the other states of the region.

After about a century of partial recovery, more of Crete”s cities and palaces went into decline in the 13th century BC. (HTIIIBMRIIIB). The last records in Linear A are dated to MRIIIA (the last of the Minoan sites was the defensive site of Carfi, a place of refuge that displays traces of Minoan Civilization almost in the Iron Age. Around 1 100 B.C. the Dorians hit the island and caused destruction and death. This invasion brought, among other changes, the beginning of the use of iron, as well as the emergence of the practice of cremating the dead.

Theories about the destruction of the Minoan Civilization

The eruption on the island of Tera is among the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of civilizations, spewing out about 60 km³ of lava and being classified as level 6 according to the volcanic explosivity index. The eruption devastated the Minoan settlement at Acrotiri, which was effectively buried over layers of pumice. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the eruption and its effect on the Minoan Civilization was the origin of the myth of Atlantis.

Many scholars believe that the eruption severely affected the civilization of Crete, although the exact extent of the impact is debated. Early theories proposed that the ash fall on the eastern half of the island of Crete choked plant life, causing the local population to starve. There are hypotheses that noxious gases reached the island, intoxicating many living things. In addition, the island became a destination for refugees from the Aegean islands. However, after further field examinations, this theory has lost credibility, as it has been determined that no more than five millimeters of ash fell anywhere on the island of Crete. Recent studies based on archaeological evidence found on Crete indicate that a huge tsunami, generated by the eruption of Santorini, devastated the coastal areas of the island and destroyed many coastal settlements. Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos believed that around 1,500 BCE all Minoan coastal towns were destroyed, as was the city of Amnisos. The projected disaster scenario, as well as the evidence of the tsunami on the northern coast of Crete (Tera is located north of the island) allowed for the recognition that the eruption of Santorini was at most half of what Marinatos applied, and his theory was then exaggerated.

Significant Minoan remains have been found above the ash layers of the Tera, implying that the eruption did not cause the immediate fall of the Minoans. Since the Minoans were a maritime power and depended on their navy to subsist, the eruption caused them significant economic hardship. It is still under intense debate whether these effects were sufficient to cause the fall of the civilization. The Mycenaean conquest of the Minoans occurred at the end of the MRII period. The Mycenaeans were a military civilization. Using their functional navy and a well-equipped army, they were capable of an invasion. There is evidence of Mycenaean weapons, found in landfills on the island of Crete. This demonstrates the Mycenaean military influence. Many archaeologists speculate that the eruption induced a crisis in the Minoan Civilization, which allowed the Mycenaeans an easy conquest.

Sinclair Hood writes that the most likely cause of the Minoan destruction was an invading force. Archaeological evidence leads one to think that the destruction of the island appears to have been due to fire damage. Hood notes that the palace at Knossos seems to have suffered less damage than other sites along the island of Crete. Besides Cnossos, in many villages on the island only the most important rulers” buildings were destroyed, while the rest of the houses remained intact. Because natural disasters do not choose their targets, it is more likely that the destruction would have been produced by invaders, as they would have seen the usefulness of a center like the palace at Knossos. Detorakis surmises that the Minoan destruction was leveraged by economic problems. With the great increase in demand, domestic production was not enough to supply it. In addition, with the advent of the Mycenaeans, the routes previously held solely by the Minoans, began to be disputed. There was a shortage of raw materials. This situation of overload caused disorder and destabilization that led to the abandonment and destruction of most of the sites.

Tulard believes that the destruction of many palaces will have been the consequence of a dispute against Cnossos. However, in 1,400 B.C., Cnossos gave in for unidentified reasons, which led to a new earthquake hypothesis. Evans saw the issue as a revolt of the plebs against a monarchy with militaristic tendencies. Alan Wace, on the other hand, suggests a revolt of the Cretans against the Achaeans. He cites the legend of Theseus as support for the theory of an Achaean invasion of the continent, with the Minotaur symbolizing the destruction of Minoan power by its former vassals. But deciphering the clay tablets of Knossos shows that Greek was already the official language at Knossos, and therefore the dynasty was already Achaean when the palace was destroyed.

Several authors have noted evidence that in this period there was intense economic activity on the island, not necessarily commercial, evident by the overloading of warehouses. For example, the archaeological recovery of Knossos provides clear evidence of deforestation of this part of the island of Crete near the last stages of Minoan development.

Crete, with an area of 8,287 km², about 250 km long in an east-west direction and with a width from north to south of between 12 and 60 km, has a coastline of several hundred kilometers. Because of its size and geographical diversity, the islanders believed, according to Homer, “to be in a collection of countries in the midst of the waters.

Crete is a mountainous island with natural harbors. Composed of mountain ranges, plains, and rain valleys, it is dominated by three major mountain ranges: the White Mountains in the west with a maximum altitude of 2,452 m, Mount Ida (or Psiloriti) in the center with 2,490 m, and Mount Dícti in the east with 2,148 m, not to mention other lower-altitude mountains. Located in a seismic zone, it has suffered earthquakes throughout its history and is still under threat from them today. There are signs of earthquake damage at many Minoan sites and clear signs of land uplift and submergence of coastal areas due to tectonic processes along the coasts. Geological and seismic activities have created numerous caves and cavities occupied by man for habitation and worship.

The island marks the southern limit of the Aegean Sea basin and has always been a crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. Since the Mediterranean is not affected by tidal movement, many houses or harbors on the east coast today are almost at sea level. Considering that the sea level was one meter lower in Crete in Roman times, we can assume that many Minoan sites are completely covered by water. Minoan ports were located in areas with promontories that allowed ships to approach from more than one direction, since ships could only sail with wind from the stern. In the past, the island of Móchlos was a typical port, with an entrance on each side of the isthmus, until it became an island with the rise in sea level. Another change in the configuration of the island”s coastline is the gradual rise of the west coast. Between Paleochora and the town of Lissos, the elevation is estimated at eight meters. An ancient Greek port city, Falasarna, in the northwest of the island, had an internal port connected by a canal. This canal is now well above sea level.

Today, about two-thirds of the island”s total area is made up of rocky, barren areas, which would already have been the case in Minoan times. If deforestation occurred very early, during the Minoan period there were large virgin cypress forests, which completely covered the western part of Mount Ida. The island did not have any navigable rivers. However, it seems that there was more water during the Bronze Age than today, probably more a result of deforestation that caused climate change. Vineyards, olive trees, vegetables, and cereals are among the agricultural products irrigated by small streams emanating from the mountains.

Homer reported a tradition that Crete had 90 cities. Judging from the locations of the island”s palaces, it was probably divided into eight political units during the height of the Minoan period. It is thought that the north was ruled from Cnossos, the south from Festus, the central-western part from Malia, the eastern tip from Cato Zacro and the west from Chania. Small palaces were founded in other locations.

Minoans outside Crete

The Minoans were traders, and their cultural contact went far beyond the island of Crete – Ancient Egypt, Cyprus, Canaan, as well as the Levant coast and with Anatolia. In late 2009, Minoan style frescoes and other artifact styles were discovered during excavations of Canaan”s palace at Tel Kadri, leading archaeologists to conclude that Minoan influence was the strongest foreign influence on the Canaanite city-states.

Minoan techniques and styles in pottery also provided models, of fluctuating influence, for Helladic Greece. Along with familiar examples from Tera, Minoan “colonies” can first be found at Castri (Citera), an island under Minoan influence until the Mycenaean occupation in the 13th century BCE. The use of the term “colony” as well as “thalassocracy,” have been criticized in recent years. The Minoan strata replaced the continental strata of the early Bronze Age. The Cyclades were in the Minoan cultural orbit, and closer to Crete, the islands of Carpathian, Saros, and Casos also had Minoan colonies, or settlements of Minoan traders, in the Middle Bronze Age; most of these were abandoned in the MRI, however, Carpathian Island remained occupied until the end of the Bronze Age. Adolf Furtwängler assumed that Egina was also a colony, however, such a hypothesis is currently repudiated. There was also a Minoan colony at Ialiso (Rhodes).

Minoan cultural influence extended not only throughout the Cyclades (the so-called Minoanization), but also to places like Egypt and Cyprus. Fifteenth century B.C. paintings at Thebes depict a number of Minoan-looking individuals bringing gifts. Inscriptions describe these people as coming from Keftiu, or “islands in the middle of the sea,” which may refer to merchants bringing gifts or officials from Crete.

Knowledge of the spoken and written language of the Minoans is scarce, due to the small number of records found. About 3,000 clay tablets have been found with various Cretan writings. Clay tablets appear to have been in use from 3,000 BCE, if not earlier. Two clay cups have been found at Knossos containing ink remains; inkwells similar to those found in Mesopotamia in the shape of an animal have also been found.

Sometimes the Minoan language is referred to as Eteocretense, but this presents confusion between the language written in Linear A and the language written in an alphabet derived from the Euboean alphabet after the Dark Ages. As for the Eteocretense language, it is believed to be a descendant of Minoan, however there is no source material in any language to allow conclusions to be drawn.

Minoan Hieroglyphs

The Minoans were the forerunners of writing in the Aegean Sea. Shortly before 2000 B.C., combinations of signs appear on Cretan seals which are probably a form of writing. This writing is composed of images of objects or concepts that are recognizable, but at first contained no phonetic value. Later the images acquired a meaning and marked phonetic sounds present in the corresponding words. This early writing is commonly called hieroglyphic, a term borrowed from Egyptian characters by Evans, since the Cretan symbols bear similarities to hieroglyphic symbols of the predynastic and protodynastic Egyptian periods. However, there was apparently never a direct relationship between these writings. Despite this, these hieroglyphs are often associated with the Egyptians, but also show similarities to several other Mesopotamian writing systems.

In his excavations at Knossos, Evans discovered almost a thousand tablets, complete or fragmented containing hitherto unknown writing. In his book Scripta Minoa, Arthur Evans tried to unite these hieroglyphs. He counted 135, but his total number is higher, since not all of them were catalogued by him. However, he was able to distinguish two phases in the evolution of these hieroglyphs, and found that their use was widespread in Crete. The first phase was marked by seals with pre-Palatialian and protopalatial ideograms. The second phase is characterized by meticulous, calligraphic incision of the signs; such a phase lasted until about 1,700 BCE, when it began to configure only ritual texts. On this point, the theories are that the hieroglyphic writing, originally derived from natural forms, would be converted into a talisman used at the end of the ancient Minoan. Seals with hieroglyphic inscriptions dating from the Middle Minoan have been found, including some on buildings at Knossos destroyed in 1 450 B.C. Simplified versions of these hieroglyphs, adopting a linear writing, have also been discovered, as well as a kind of graffiti on the walls of Knossos and Agia Triada, from 1 700 B.C.

Evans catalogued the hieroglyphs into different categories. Some are taken from the animal kingdom (others represent parts of the human body (eyes, hands, feet) or even the entire human silhouette. Other signs are vessels, tools and other objects of everyday life: plow, lyre, knife, saw, boat. There is also the double axe (labris), the throne, the arrow, and the cross. Although not deciphered, the hieroglyphs found by Evans helped paint a picture of the Minoan Civilization. For Evans, the hieroglyphs are indications of a mercantile, industrial and agricultural community. He analyzes the tools, some of which he considers to be of Egyptian origin and were used by masons, carpenters, and decorators of great palaces. It was discovered in one of the symbols that the eight-stringed lyre had reached the same stage of development as is known to have occurred in the classical period, almost a thousand years before Terpander. The recurrence of the ship symbol suggests an important commercial activity. The illustrated ingot was, according to Evans, a means of payment.

Evans tried to interpret the signs as representations of the Minoan dignitary. Thus, the double axe (labris) would be the emblem of the guardian of the sanctuary of the double axe, which is the palace of Cnossos. The eyes symbolized the overseer or supervisor; the spatula for architect; the door for guardian, and so on. But this vision was then considered premature, since the natures of the objects represented by the hieroglyphs are still uncertain. But even if we knew exactly what the hieroglyphs represent, it seems risky to assign a meaning so close to the object represented. Some series of hieroglyphs that regularly appear on seals have been attributed to nine names of gods, or perhaps to the titles of priests or dignitaries.

The most important copy of the hieroglyphic inscriptions from Crete is the disk of Festus, discovered in 1903 in a storage room in the northeast apartments of the palace. The two surfaces of the disk are covered with hieroglyphs arranged in a spiral, and printed on the clay while it was still soft. The signs form groups, separated by vertical lines, each of these groups representing a word. We can distinguish 45 different types of signs, some of which can be identified as from the Protopalacian period. Some series of hieroglyphs repeat like choruses, suggesting a religious hymn. Evans hypothesized that the disk was not Cretan, but rather that it was imported from Southwest Asia. However, the discovery in the Arcalochóri cave of inscriptions of a double axe similar to those on the disc, and an inscription of a gold ring at Mavro Spilio with a spiral arrangement allows us to state that the disc of Festus is of Cretan origin.

After some modifications of the iconographic system, new writing systems appear, first the Linear A and later the Linear B.

Linear A

The Linear A alphabet, a name coined by Arthur Evans, is the transformation and simplification of ideogrammatic writing that comes from writing of the Neopalatial period. Evans speculated that it became writing around 1 800 BCE, but this view has recently been rejected with the discovery of transitional symbols. The iconographic elements have become systematized making the writing more fluid. But the transition from one writing to the other was so slow that both systems were in effect in parallel.

This writing is called linear because it is composed of signs, which, although derived from ideograms, are no longer recognizable as representations of objects, but composed of abstract shapes.

The documents discovered so far are inscriptions on clay tables and other cult objects. The texts in Linear A from the Agia Triada palace are the most numerous: 150 small clay tablets have been discovered where transactions and storage are listed. Similar texts have been found at Cnossos, Malia, Phœstos, Tilissos, Russolicos, Archanes, and Cato Zacro. The texts include titles indicating probable locations and characters. The numbering system was different from hieroglyphic writing.

About 100 symbols were widely used in Linear A. Of these, twelve were ideograms, presented separately in lists before the numbers. The Linear A system had local variations, but there were common elements. A certain number of inscriptions had a magical and religious character. They were engraved or written on ritual utensils, jugs, offering tablets, stone spoons, cups and bowls all over Crete. In fact, it is believed that by 1 600 B.C. Linear A was in use all over the island. But most texts from this period were written on clay tablets in the form of rectangular tablets.

While it is certain that the language of these tablets is Minoan, since it has not yet been deciphered, many recognize elements of a Semitic, Luvite, or Indo-European language. By applying phonetic values that are known to apply to Linear B writing, some researchers have been able to produce a variety of interpretations of texts written in Linear A. A decimal numbering system was also identified: vertical lines for units, dots or horizontal lines for tens, small circles for hundreds, and circles with radius for thousands. The direction of the writing was from left to right. Short inscriptions in this writing are found on plaster at Knossos and Agia Triada, on inscriptions on many seals, and on pitos (large clay pots) of various origins. Inscriptions on pitos usually include three or four signs and are therefore trisyllabic or tetrasyllabic and possibly signify the name of the owners or makers of the pitos, not excluding the name of the gods, the contents or place names.

The greatest difficulty in reading Linear A is the fact that very few texts have been preserved and many of the documents found are only fragments, making it difficult to apply with any probability of success the method used for decoding the Linear B system, with which it has similarities but also differences. Sites that have a large number of tablets are sites that were burned in 1 450 B.C., where fire baked the clay tablets, allowing them to be preserved. For other sites, the discovery of documents in Linear A is more random.

The expansion of trade during the second Minoan palace period resulted in the spread of Minoan writing on the islands and in mainland Greece. There are known samples on Milos, Ceos, Citera, Naxos, and Santorini.

Linear B

Linear B writing is composed of about 200 signs, divided into syllabic signs with phonetic values and ideograms with semantic values. These ideograms represent objects or commodities, but have no phonetic value and are never used as signs to write a sentence. Many of the signs are identical or similar to Linear A signs; although one cannot be sure that similar signs in the two systems would have the same phonetic value, because Linear A has not yet been deciphered.

In the Mycenaean period, Linear A was replaced by Linear B, a very archaic version of the Greek language. With the discovery of this information, it was possible to decipher the writing. Between 1944 and 1950, Alice Kober studied the Linear B writing and claimed that she had found a certain grammatical unity and suggested that if word order, inflections and endings were studied, the written grammar of the language could be derived, although there was no way to know the pronunciation of the words. In 1950, Emmett L. Bennett published a paper in which he created a system for classifying signs and showed important differences between A and B linear scripts, pointing out that although the signs were similar, the words were possibly different.

Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, building on previous studies, began an extensive process of analysis, with which they were able to decipher the Linear B writing, which provided the apparent discovery of the grammatical structure of the language and relative frequency and relationships of the phonetic signs in which it was written. The names of some of the most important Minoan sites were discovered with such a study.

Linear C

Linear C, also known as Cypro-Minoan syllabary (abbreviated CM) is an undeciphered syllabary written and spoken in Cyprus between 1 550 – 1 200 BCE. The term Cypro-Minoan was employed by Arthur Evans in 1909, based on the visual similarity to Linear A, from which CM is thought to be derived. Approximately 250 objects with Cypro-Minoan inscriptions have been found, including clay tablets, votive holders, clay cylinders, and clay balls. Similar inscriptions have been discovered at various sites in Cyprus, as well as in the ancient city of Ugarite on the Syrian coast.

The inscriptions were classified by Emilia Masson into four closely related groups: Archaic CM, CM1 (also known as Linear C), CM2 and CM3, although some scholars disagree with this classification. Little is known about the origin of this writing, or what its function was. However, its use continued into the Iron Age, forming a link to the Cypriot syllabary (already deciphered), used to write ancient Greek.

The oldest known CM inscription is a clay tablet discovered in 1955 at the ancient site of Encomi, near the east coast of Cyprus. Dated to 1 500 BC, it originated three written lines. On clay seals found at Encomi, long texts (with more than 100 characters) have been detected. Probably the clay balls and seals were related to the keeping of economic records in Minoan Cyprus, considering the large number of cross-references between the texts.

The number of sources of Linear C writing are not large enough to make decipherment possible. Furthermore, different languages may have been represented by the Cypro-Minoan subsystem, and without the discovery of bilingual texts or many more texts in each subsystem, decipherment is extremely unlikely.


One of the most notable contributions of the Minoans to architecture is their unique column, with a larger diameter at the top than at the bottom. The columns were made of wood rather than stone, and were usually painted red. They were mounted on a simple stone base and topped with a cushion, a round piece in the manner of a capital. During the Middle Minoan the Minoans developed revolutionary architectural techniques such as the use of cut stonework and the drilling of mortices into the top of stonework blocks for the attachment of large horizontal beams.

Because of the mythology, many scholars have struggled for years to discover the location of the famous labyrinth of the Minotaur. As Evans pointed out in his first impressions, Knossos should be regarded as the labyrinth, however, recent investigations point to the cave of Scothinus, 12 km from Knossos, as the true labyrinth. Used to submit young people to initiation tests, its underground galleries descend to a depth of 55 meters and are arranged in four levels, with rutting levels and dead ends; along the way there are carved limestone blocks depicting monstrous heads. At the end of the circuit is a stone altar. Furthermore, according to some authors, the name “labyrinth” (labýrinthos), by etymological approximation with the word lábris (double axe), would point to the following interpretation: labýrinthos instead of its literal interpretation could be seen as “palace of the lábris”.

The Early Minoan is characterized by a continuous process of architectural evolution. In Ancient Minoan I the number of small villages increases steeply all over the island, although cave occupation is still evident. In Old Minoan II there are large buildings with a large number of rooms, some of which were used as warehouses, while others were rooms connected to corridors; there are paved areas adjacent to these buildings. The walls were built with clay bricks and gravel, plastered with lime and painted red. In Vasilicí, for example, the walls were supported on a wooden frame, while the roof was supported by wooden beams covered with reed, reed and clay. In Pyrgos the roof was of olive branches covered with reeds and lime; its floor was of stone blocks covered with a layer of white clay. At Knossos are located the buildings known as hypogeus and a large wall presumably part of a monumental building, all dating from the Early Minoan III.

At the end of the Early Minoan, 3rd millennium BCE the first Minoan palaces began to be erected. It was assumed that the founding of the palaces was synchronous (it is speculated that the palaces were erected at about the same time) and datable to the Middle Minoan, around 2000 BC. (date of the first palace at Knossos), although it is now stressed that palaces were built over a longer period in different locations in response to local developments. The earliest palaces were those at Knossos, Malia, and Festus, and these were influenced by elements of Ancient Minoan building styles.

In the Early Minoan there were several tomb styles, some of them imported from the Cyclades (cists). The earliest examples are the caves (used since the late Neolithic) where the presence of bones of different individuals mixed together and usually cremated is common. Larnaks and pitos become popular during the period, especially in the Middle Minoan. Larnaks were elliptical, relatively low, had no pedestals or decoration, and were deposited in individual graves, in rectangular constructed tombs, or in tolos. Minoan fools were circular, between four and thirteen meters in diameter, with generally thick walls composed of rough blocks of stone bound with clay. They were built on a flat surface or against a rocky ledge; their doors were small and almost always closed by a large rectangular slab on the outside. The rectangular built tombs fall into two categories: series of long, narrow parallel chambers; group of square or rectangular rooms. In these tombs and in the fools the inhumations were multiple, and it has been evident that bones were periodically dug up and later reburied, just as there is evidence of fumigations.

As a striking feature, the Minoan palaces of the Middle Minoan (Festo with Mount Ida) are aligned with the surrounding topography. The architecture of these complexes is identified by the “square within the square” style, while the later palaces incorporate more internal divisions and corridors. Limestone and plaster was used to build the palaces. The palaces, arranged around a central courtyard, had sectors that grouped together residential apartments, banquet halls, reception rooms, guest rooms, theaters, storerooms, shrines, administrative offices, and workshops for ceramists, engravers of sigils, bronze craftsmen, etc. Some rooms have frescoes of animals, people and plants.

The western wing of Festus (part of the first palace) is surrounded by a series of paved courtyards that were entered by two main entrances and five smaller ones. In Phaestus, Knossos and Malia were found circular wells known as koulourai (in Cato Zacro there are cisterns, drains and a fountain. The warehouses of Malia arranged their pitos in areas elevated on the ground, for in the center of the warehouses there are canals that ended in holes that were used to collect anything that spilled from the vessels. There is no consensus as to the function of the building known as the hypostyle crypt, where pillar crypts have been identified

To the west of the palace of Malia is an architectural complex consisting of three buildings, where the middle one (known as “Quadra Mu,” in French: Quartier Mu) is the most prominent. Occupying an area of 450 m², it has about 30 first floor rooms, a sanctuary with a rectangular fireplace, four storerooms with drainage systems, a paved room, a lustral basin, a light well, and two staircases to upper floors; the arrangement of the rooms illustrates a certain social stratification. On the opposite side of the street are located three contemporary workshops that were possibly owned by employees of Quadra Mu. The pre-Palatialian hypogeums, now erected outside the palace premises, are usually located in public courtyards that separate the palace from the surrounding city. They are semi-subterranean and there is no consensus as to their function, having been considered as warehouses, although according to recent investigations they possibly functioned as water tanks, or latrines for detritus.

In this period, the changes felt in society as a whole, directly influenced the treatment of the Minoans with their dead. Fools continued to be erected, but in smaller numbers; a fool of Archanes has a dromo (entrance hall), a characteristic of Mycenaean fools. A new type of grave, the chamber tombs, appear in this period. They are composed of horizontal passages with a downward slope, the dromo and the stoma (entrance door smaller than the corridor) that opens into a rectangular or rounded chamber. At this stage pilos become more common, being deposited in single graves, singly or in groups, in caves, in fools, in rectangular ossuaries or in chamber tombs. Labrnaques become smaller and deeper when elliptical; there are the first examples of rectangular forms without legs as well as painted forms.

Neopalatial cities were composed of palaces, water and sewage systems, cobbled streets, commercial stores, etc.; they were connected to each other by paved roads. Stone ducts carried water from the hills and rainfall, and distributed it through pipes in bathrooms and toilets; water and waste were carried away through clay pipes. The city plans of this period were varied: blocks of houses divided by paved streets; a main central building (a central palace and large houses around it; large houses separated or clustered in smaller spaces. Besides the cities there were isolated villages consisting of brick and wooden houses built on limestone blocks; rural mansions are also common. On the coast, shipyards were erected for the manufacture of ships.

Agia Triada (neo-Palatialian settlement, notorious during the post-Palatial period) was a large sumptuously decorated L-shaped complex, located a few kilometers from the eastern end of Festo”s palace. From Agia Triada the residential quarters and some portions of the manufacturing (workshop) and storage quarters are preserved. Other characteristic complexes of the period are the Little Palace of Cnossos, the Royal Villa of Cnossos, Niru Chani and the city of Gurnia.

In the tomb sphere graves, caves and cists are rarely used. During the period chamber tombs are the most characteristic burials. Mycenaean tolos (the tolos of Maleme are distinctive, as they have a pyramidal roof. There are new tomb types: pit-shaped graves with or without a niche. These are rectangular pits two meters deep covered by stone slabs; specimens with a niche are 4.35 meters deep usually one meter high by two meters long.


All known Minoan frescoes are dated to the Neopalatial period. They are found at Festus, Malia, Agia Triada, Amnisos, Tilissos, and especially Cnossos, as well as at Acrotiri (at Santorini), Agia Irini (Ceos), and Philacopi (at Milos). Among the artistic representations are religious processions, sea animals (dolphins, fish, octopuses), land animals (lion, cat, monkeys) and flying animals (birds), flowers and other botanical representations, boxing and other fighting scenes, taurocatapsy (jumping over bulls), mythological beings (griffins) and gods, people from society, litters, etc. Men”s faces were painted red, while women”s faces were painted white.

The Minoans extracted the dyes used in the frescoes and painted vases from various materials: black from carbon and manganese; white from lime and white clay; red from red ochre and hematite; pink from the mixture of red ochre and white clay; yellow from yellow ochre; blue from natural iron, lapis lazuli, and Egyptian blue; green from the mixture of ochre or malachite with Egyptian blue; gray from carbon with white clay or lime; brown from the mixture of red ochre and Egyptian blue or riebeckite; and brown from the mixture of yellow ochre and carbon.


Neolithic pottery from Crete was produced without potters” wheels and fired over fires; the clay employed could vary from red to black and was painted as well as polished by rubbing the surface of the vessel after firing. The most common form were simple, open basins. In the pre-Palatial period new styles developed based on Neolithic styles, and anthropomorphic examples, objects, etc. appeared among the finds.

The Pyrgos style consists of black or smoky ceramics with linear and polished shapes, which extended the Neolithic tradition. The main forms were goblets, cups and cones, double or triple pottery, spherical hanging ceramics with lids, and small conical jugs. Instead of a painting, there are “polishing motifs”: with this technique, rubbing parts of the surface with the polishing tool, various ornamental motifs are obtained, such as semicircles, zigzags, and others. The shapes and decorations of the pottery suggest that it was derived from wooden prototypes.

In the incisive style there is a predominance of dark color in the pieces. The main forms are bottles and low pyxes. Starting with the Agio Onophrian style, painted ceramics appear among the ceramic set, as well as new patterns and shapes. The painting varies from red to black to brown, depending on the firing conditions. The decoration consisted of vertical patterns on the base of the vessel. The main forms were pitchers, cups, bowls, amphorae, vases, pyxes and compartmentalized vessels, simple or complex. This pottery is divided into two styles. Style I is characterized by vases with rounded bottoms and simple decoration. Style II is characterized by vases with flat or footed bottoms with extensive use of hatching pattern. The Lebena style becomes distinctive by the use of white decoration on a brown or light brown surface, as well as linear patterns. The bottom of the vases is dark red and rounded. Its main forms are low ware, plates and bowls.

These styles are developed and refined during the early Early Minoan II to the point that new styles begin to emerge. The Cumasa style was an evolution of the Agios Onophrian style. It had more complex and more eccentric shapes and geometric decorative motifs (vertical line systems, inverted triangles, rhombuses), butterfly-shaped motifs, etc. The fine gray ceramic style is distinguished by the preference for gray colored pieces and polishing of the surface. The most common shapes are spherical and cylindrical pyxes. The decoration is exclusively incised and usually takes the form of geometric motifs (short diagonals, triangles, semicircles, rings) and dots.

In the late Early Minoan II there is a predominance of the Vasilicí style. The most common shapes were flat-bottomed jugs, teapots, plates, bowls and cups; jugs and teapots had applications of little balls (“eyes”) on each side of the spout. Their surface was covered with a thick layer, in which the irregular oxidizing effect of the fire for cooking, made spots of different shapes. During Early Minoan III and Middle Minoan I new styles appeared. The Lefcos style, evolved from the Vasilicí style, is the most prominent. The surface of the pottery is black and polished with ochre or white decorative motifs (curved lines, garlands, octopus tentacles, rosettes, spirals). Traditional shapes are pitchers, teapots, and cups. Another style, the tracery becomes predominant. Its surface is roughened to the point that it resembles shells.

The spiral, which would later become the main theme of Minoan decoration is then introduced into the repertoire of painted motifs. It seems likely that the Minoans came into contact with spiral decoration due to oriental influence, and especially from oriental jewelry techniques, where the decorative use of the spiral form appears in very ancient times. It was then that the potter”s wheel and the kiln became widespread. During this period the production of animal-shaped vases (zoomorphic vases) was also evident.

The use of the potter”s wheel becomes widespread and purer small clay pots with more complex and dynamic motifs appear. At the beginning of the Protopalatial period there is a predominance of the rough style, characterized by increasing decoration applied on the surface of the pot when the clay is still wet, creating a three-dimensional effect. This technique is often combined with a polychrome painting.

Another dominant style of the period is the Camares style. Its main characteristics are its decorative themes and its surface covered with glossy varnish (dark or black). There are combinations of white ocher and various shades of red, which can vary from cherry red to Indian red. There is rarely purple, orange, yellow, brown, or blue. Ornaments are painted vegetable or animal bas-reliefs of various colors and polychrome motifs (there are a high number of decorative motifs in the Camares style. The most common forms are cups, bowls, basins, cups, jugs, spherical-bellied cups, small pots, rythons, amphorae, filters, bottles and zoomorphic pottery. The pieces could have vertical striations, straight walls, keel-shaped, wavy, have or not handles, be spherical, etc.

The Neopalacian is a period marked by great fertility and progress for the Minoan world that was reflected in art. The earlier styles survive as sub-styles so that new and more characteristic styles begin to emerge. The most common motifs are white spirals, flags and stippling, sometimes combined with relief decoration. The shape of the vases is elongated, the pithes are decorated with undulations and medallions in relief or printed. In addition to the shapes adopted in the past, new forms are created, the most characteristic being the jug or amphora with a neck, a true opening and two small handles. The first style to become notable is the pleated style. Its surface is highly polished and decorated with undulating patterns, reminiscent of the folds of a tortoiseshell. The most common forms are bowls, amphorae, pottery with distinctive mouths, scyphons and pitchers. While in the smaller pottery the decoration occupies most of the walls of the pieces, in the larger pottery it appears as horizontal stripes.

The floral style takes as its most common decorative motifs ivy, saffron, olive branches, leaf bands and spirals, rushes, papyrus, and lilies. In the marine style the main motifs are tritons, octopuses, nautiluses, squids, starfish, seaweed, corals, and sponges. It is common to depict one or two larger sea creatures that were flanked by smaller ones. The abstract style values the use of religious elements, geometric shapes, imitations of stone and metal objects, etc. In the alternative style there is an intricate mix of decorative elements from other styles. Its main themes are the heart, the sea anemone, irregular rock ornaments, bilobed shields, double axes, sacred knots, ox heads, etc. Its main form was the hemispherical cup with folded outer edge. The style spread to the southern Aegean Sea, where it experienced a certain apogee.

The style of the period has a great Helladic influence, that is, from the mainland. This style appeared in Knossos, soon after the destruction of the palace, and spread throughout the island. This pottery has three phases of development.

In the first and second phases, new forms appeared, some of which are considered to be of Mycenaean provenance, such as the false-mouth amphora, craters, the pear-shaped amphorae jars, ritons, spherical gourds, cylices, and scyphuses. The decorative motifs are stereotypical, abstract, invariably repeated and drawn on the ends. The most common motifs are octopus, bird, sigmoids, lozenges, wavy or broken lines, flowers, concentric arcs, spirals. Sometimes there are representations of scenes.

In the third phase, there are two styles of ceramic painting: the sober style and the dense style. The sober style is characterized by the limited use of linear elements, placed on a free background. Vessels are painted at a very rudimentary level. The dense style uses compositions with many designs and decorative motifs. The motifs are heavy, compact, and associated with numerous thin lines and tightly drawn triangles. During the sub-Minoan period, the pottery lost some of its quality. Some samples came from Carfi. However most are not well fired and the base becomes easily flaked.

Lithic art

The stone vase industry emerges in Ancient Minoan II. Initially imported from Egypt, the main raw materials employed were marble, serpentine, calcareous tufa, chlorite schist, etc. Another aspect of the Minoan lithic industry was the ivory industry, a raw material from Syria and Egypt. With it were produced seals, beads, loom spindles, pieces for board games, combs and mirror handles, jewelry, vases and statuettes. Earthenware was used for the production of vases, ritual objects, figurines, jewelry, cylindrical seals, pearl beads, amulets and decorative plates, as well as for decorating objects made from other materials. The first faience works appeared in Crete at the end of the Ancient Minoan. Jewelry begins to be made with semi-precious stones.

Possibly originating from Babylon or Egypt, cylindrical seals were primarily used to identify and protect documents and also to serve as amulets. Such objects evolved over time from purely utilitarian to an art with stone-sized specimens. The seals essentially represent a sign, which could possibly be a form of writing. They are found among Minoan tomb spoils, which shows the idea of personal identification attached to seals.

The earliest seals date from the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C., during the second pre-Palatialian phase. They were made of soft material, such as bone, onyx, ivory, serpentine or steatite. They are large and almost all have been found in tombs. The main shapes are rings, stamp seals, button seals, cones, prisms, and, more rarely, cylinders; there are examples of zoomorphic seals (lions, bulls, monkeys, birds). Their surface could be incised with lines, crosses, stars, or “S” or spiral patterns, with zoomorphic and/or anthropomorphic representations. Seals from the late Pre-Palatial period have hieroglyphic symbols.

During the Protopalacian, with the advent of new lapidary techniques, the use of new harder raw materials and semi-precious stones began to emerge, such as kornaline, agate, jade, chalcedony, rock crystal or hematite; there are examples of tiny incised forms. Prisms, discs, stamp-stamps, and pear-shaped stamps with a small handler are characteristic of the period. Motifs include hieroglyphics, designs composed of lines or circles, as well as figurative designs (zoomorphic, anthropomorphic, and botanical) that pave the way for the naturalistic style of the next period.

In Neopalatial times there is a considerable increase in the variety of decorative forms and motifs (fish, crustaceans, birds, branches, horses, bulls, lions devouring bulls, goats). There are examples that reflect a religious character, with depictions illustrating rite celebrations, bullfights, buildings, or sacred objects (e.g. libation vessels). There are also seals depicting demonic beings such as griffins, sphinxes, the Minotaur, and the Egyptian goddess Tueris. Examples from Murnia show two-wheeled war chariots pulled by horses.

The art of stamps declined in the post-Palacean period. They lost their power of invention and were then confined to depictions of traditional designs. This decline is gradual, and the beginning of the period evidences semi-precious stone seals, as well as motifs from the earlier period such as lions attacking bulls, goats, and ritual scenes. However, the characteristic motifs of this period are water birds and papyrus flowers. The incisions are less worked than those of the earlier periods, the motifs have less life, the limbs are separated from the body, angular rigidity is evident, and all are reminiscent of fine arts of the same period.


The art of producing statues arose in Crete in the Neolithic period. Since its formation, this art employed clay, marble, steatite, alabaster, limestone, slate, and shells. The clay specimens were more naturalistic than the stone ones. They were certainly for religious use and were used as amulets to a lesser degree. Neolithic statues are characterized by bodily deformity: misshapen heads, long necks, small bodies, etc; in female specimens the enhancement of body parts linked to fertility is evident. There are abundant examples of statues of the mother goddess.

In pre-Palatial times the use of bronze for the production of statues begins. Initially, stone statuary has Cycladic influences. The male figures, usually painted in red, have daggers and a typical belt; the female figures wear elaborately worked Minoan clothing and are sometimes painted in white with polychrome decoration. Shrines of the period begin to receive offerings of terracotta statues depicting human forms. Among the zoomorphic examples are sheep, cattle, and ox heads. There are examples of clay reproductions of shrines, altars, boats, thrones, and drums. In the post-Palatial period the statues are made solely of clay. The main forms of the period are zoomorphic statues, various objects, and the goddess praising.


The beginning of metal use in Crete marks the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the history of the Minoan Civilization. Although Crete possessed copper deposits, their quantity was insufficient, which forced the Minoans to import metals from Cyprus and Anatolia. The first copper objects are small, almost triangular, daggers. Over time new metals began to be employed: zinc (Anatolia), bronze, gold (Egypt, Sinai, Anatolia), lead and silver (Cyclades or Cilicia). With bronze they produced elongated daggers (during the period they received nails to hold the handles) reinforced by a central rib, double axes, carving knives, saws, and pliers; the tools, especially those attached to wooden rods, had oval holes to prevent, or at least inhibit, the tool from turning. Gold was used to produce pins, necklaces, pendants, diadems, chains, and zoomorphic statues.

The Minoans were already familiar with the techniques of hammering, cutting, and the so-called repoussé (employed on malleable metals in order to ornament or shape them by hammering on the opposite side, thus creating low reliefs). There was great variety in the types of personal adornments produced: tiaras, rings, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, earrings, pendants, and fibulae; gold and silver beads were combined to make jewelry with pearls and other precious materials such as ivory, ceramics, and gemstones in colorful compositions. These objects benefited from the use of new, more advanced techniques such as modeling, beading and filigree.

In the Neopalatials domestic utensils (amphorae, hydras, hand-washing basins, bowls, pots, pans, etc.) and weapons were made from bronze, while gold and silver were used to produce jewelry. In the post-Palatial period the characteristic variability of Minoan metallurgy declines, and it is virtually reduced to the production of weapons (daggers, swords, knives and spearheads) and some personal objects (hairpins, razor blades, mirrors) with bronze. Glass, gold and silver are employed to create rings, pearls and necklaces; the gold rings had incised religious scenes and were used as seals.

In the transition to the Bronze Age, as population increased, the Cretan plains were used to grow cereals (wheat, barley, vetch, chickpeas), legumes (lettuce, celery, asparagus,carrots), fruit trees (olive, vine, fig), textile plants (poppy (possibly opium), cypress (wood extraction) and flowers (roses, tulips, lilies, daffodils) were also cultivated. Linear B tablets indicate the importance of orchard agriculture in processing crops for “secondary products.” Olive oil in the Cretan diet is comparable to butter in the northern diet. The process of fermenting wine is likely to have been practiced due to the interest of the palace economy because of the prestige of such a good as a commodity, as well as being a culturally significant commodity for consumption.

Livestock (pigs, goats, sheep, dogs, cattle, donkeys, and later horses) played an important role in the Cretan economy. In addition to providing meat and dairy products, animals were used for transportation, clothing, export, games, and sacrifices. The Minoans also domesticated bees for honey (it was employed as sugar) and wax. Hunting (hares, water hens, ducks, wild goats, wild boar, wolves, deer) was also a relevant economic practice; nowadays there is not as much animal abundance for such practice. Fishing was employed to obtain fish and mollusks, especially the Bolinus brandaris that was used to obtain the purple color.

Food manufacturing (flour, oil and wine production), spinning, weaving and clothing production were nucleated around families. With the growing demand for exports, the Minoans began to specialize. It was then that professionals such as potters, carpenters and bronzers emerged; these artisans had their workshops around the squares of urban centers, since places like these served as free markets.

In view of their privileged position, the Minoans developed an intense trade with the civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean as well as with the peoples of Western Europe. In addition, internally Crete was favored by a remarkable internal network of roads by which goods were transported. The Minoans exported olive oil, wine, medicinal plants, weapons, jewelry, cloth, and ceramic objects; they imported metals (copper, tin, silver, gold), ivory, perfumes, and obsidian, as well as palm trees and cats from Egypt.

The Minoans had a decimal number system based on the Egyptian one but different from it, reaching only a few thousand. They had also developed a percentage system. They had knowledge of astronomy (used for agriculture and navigation), geometry (building construction), mechanics, plumbing, sewage technology, and land reclamation. As a result of the intense commercial exchanges undertaken by the Minoans, they developed a system of weights and measures in which copper ingots and gold discs with determined weights were used. This system was used by craftsmen and merchants to determine the value of goods.

At the top of the hierarchy was the king called Minos, who possessed administrative and legislative power. Below were the nobles and members of the royal family who formed the court and possibly had advisory power; there were also specialized officials such as scribes (possibly using, in addition to clay, papyrus from Egypt) and the collectors of agricultural and manufactured taxes who exercised bureaucratic power. In the priestly realm, there were men and women. The rest of the population was occupied with agricultural production, manufacturing of products (possibly there were slaves in Minoan society.

Cretan women”s occupations ranged from participating in solemn festivals and worship ceremonies to more modest household occupations. Women played various roles as hunters, pugilists, bullfighters, priestesses, etc. and sporting activities (pugilism, racing, gladiatorial fighting, and bullfighting) were their amusements. The Minoans also enjoyed meetings, theater, dancing and music. Cretan dance had a religious character. Archeological discoveries indicate that the Minoans already knew the lyre, the flute and the trumpet.


Minoan fabrics were made of linen and wool fibers; there is evidence of the use of silk for fabric production (silkworm cocoons have been found). Women wore wide bell-shaped skirts with successive elaborate decorative weaves and sashes, tight bodices exposing the breasts, embroidered sandals, high-heeled shoes and boots, jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, earrings) made with precious metals and colored stones, eye and facial coloring, and tattoos (men wore shepherds” clothes and loincloths decorated with spiral designs, and wore high boots and espadrilles. When they did not have long strands of hair, they wore turbans, a kind of cap, or a flat, round hat.

Apparently, the religion was matriarchal. This theory is based mainly on the abundance of female deities to the detriment of male ones. In many religious representations, although some argue that they are worshippers and priestesses officiating in ceremonies, there is a great preponderance of female representations including a Mother Goddess (fertility) and a Potnia (mistress of animals, protector of cities, family, crops, etc.). Some argue that these are features of the same Goddess. They are depicted with serpents, birds, poppies, and an unknown animal form.

The Minoans erected shrines at natural sites (springs, caves, elevations) or in palaces, and these were very different from those developed later by the Greeks. The Minoan merchant elite presumably sustained their authority through the ideology of kinship and or relationship to the worshipped deities. In the palaces the worship rooms had arched flank altars, lustrous basins, three-footed tables for offerings, symbols such as double axes and horns, a riton for libations in the shape of a bull”s head, and frescoes illustrating religious ceremonies. One of the main illustrated festival celebrations was the taurocatapsy, depicted generally in the frescoes at Knossos and inscribed on miniature seals.

Among the Minoan sacred symbols are the bull and its horns, the laurel, the serpent, the knots, the solar disk, the tree and columns; recently a different interpretation has been suggested as to the different meaning of these symbols, with a focus on beekeeping.

In the Minoan world inhumations were very popular at the expense of cremations. Little is known about the mortuary rituals or the stages the deceased went through before the final burial, however, it is suggested that toasting was an important mortuary rite, as a result of the high incidence of cups found in some tombs. Furthermore, during the process of development of this civilization, one can witness the transition from a collectivist trend of burials (especially in the fools) to more individualistic models (pitos and lárnaques).


In the temple of Anemospilia, destroyed by an earthquake, four bodies were found. Supposedly one of these bodies, situated under an altar with a spear between the bones, is of a sacrificed human being. However, some scholars, including Nanno Marinatos, argue that this site was not a temple and that the evidence for the sacrifice “is far from conclusive.” Dennis Hughes agrees and argues that the platform where the man stood was not necessarily an altar, and the blade was probably a spearhead that may not have been placed on the young man, but could have fallen from shelves or an upper floor during the earthquake. In the “Northern House” at Knossos four mutilated bodies were found, possibly of children. Scholars such as Nicolaos Platon are reluctant to believe in such barbarism and surmise that the remains could be those of monkeys. Dennis Hughes and Rodney Castleden argue that these bones were deposited as a “secondary burial.”

The term Pax Minoica, coined by Arthur Evans, is associated with his view that there was little internal armed conflict in Minoan Crete until the period of Mycenaean domination. This view has been criticized in recent years, although, as with much of Minoan Crete, it is difficult to draw any obvious conclusions from the available evidence. However, excavations carried out in 2006 at four Minoan coastal settlements on the island of Carpathia from c. 1 800-1 500 BCE, seem to reinforce the hypothesis that the Minoans had little concern for defense, for although the settlements are located in places vulnerable to attack and have no fortifications, they show no signs of having been attacked.

Although he found towers and walls in ruins (e.g. Cufota and Commos), Evans claimed that there was little evidence of Minoan fortifications. But as S. Alexiou pointed out in Kretology 8, a number of sites, such as Agia Phocia, were built on hills or were fortified. As Lucia Nixon put it: – “… we may have been overly influenced by the lack of what we might think of as solid fortifications to evaluate the archaeological evidence correctly. As in so many other cases, we may not have gone looking for evidence in the right places, and therefore cannot conclude a correct assessment of the Minoans and their ability to avoid war.” Many archaeologists, including Keith Branigan, Paul Rehak, Jan Driessen and Cheryl Floyd, believe that the weapons found at Minoan sites had purely economic and ritual functions. However this theory is challenged by the discovery of “florets nearly three meters long” dating from the Middle Minoan.

As a result of the great Minoan avidity for trade, this civilization ended up influencing various places and peoples in the Mediterranean. It is believed, for example, that the cult of the bull in the Balearic Islands was introduced by the Minoans. However, it was the Greeks who suffered the greatest Minoan influence. Language, writing, arts, sports, science, agriculture, politics and religion are some of the fields in which there were Minoan contributions to Greek culture. Hydraulics, astronomical knowledge, navigation, metallurgy, dance, music, and poetry, intense urban life, well-structured administration and monarchical centralization, beliefs in the afterlife, anthropomorphic polytheism, and the cultivation of certain crops (olive oil, figs, vineyards, etc.) are all knowledge and beliefs inherited from the Minoans.


  1. Civilização Minoica
  2. Minoan civilization
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